Editor’s Letter | Responding to the Landscape

By Margaret L. Brown

A Miracle of Nature by Thomas Moran,painting, Southwest Art
A Miracle of Nature by Thomas Moran

In 1871 East Coast painter Thomas Moran joined an expedition to Yellowstone as part of the first government-sponsored survey of the area. Moran’s field sketches were subsequently presented on Capitol Hill, along with photographs and geological surveys, as testimony to the grandeur of the American West. In a way that black-and-white photographs or written descriptions of the area could never equal, Moran’s paintings conveyed his emotional response to the landscape and helped convince Congress to designate Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872. A Moran retrospective exhibit, which coincides with the 125th anniversary of this event, opens at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK, this month learn more about it in Stephen May’s article beginning on page 40.

Responding to the landscape and conveying those emotions to the viewer is also the driving force behind the contemporary painters featured this month. “My paintings are more than just a re-creation of a particular view,” says Arizona plein-air painter Matt Smith. “I try to imbue them with the feelings I experience outdoors.” Gordon Brown, whose favorite subject is the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, describes his intent as showing the viewer the purity and beauty of the landscape. “In my paintings, I want nature to come to life to be revealed and appreciated,” he says. And though Barbara Zaring takes liberties with the actual colors of the New Mexico landscape by using a vivid, exuberant palette, her paintings accurately represent her emotional reaction to her surroundings.

While Moran’s paintings gave 19th-century Americans their first views of the unexplored West, today’s landscape painters often focus on what may be the last views of a disappearing West. Gary Ernest Smith grew up plowing, planting, and harvesting the fields of his family’s farm in eastern Oregon and had long thought about doing a series of paintings based on them. He acquired a sense of urgency, however, when developers started taking over the rich farmlands near his home in Utah about three years ago. “I began to get the vision of what I wanted from the Fields series: to re-create on canvas the feelings of peace and serenity I have when I stand in an open field,” he says.

Peace, serenity, wonder, joy the western landscape evokes all these feelings. May you experience them when exploring the landscapes in the following pages.

Featured in February 1998